When it comes to the child’s post-divorce living arrangements, there are rarely straightforward answers. While every parent wants what is best for the child, this does not always mean that they will see eye-to-eye on what that means.
This can become more difficult when a child expresses a preference for the parent they want to live with, especially when the child is a teenage and presumably more mature. As far as Virginia custody laws are concerned, however, there is no “magic age” that allows the child to decide where and with whom they want to live.
The doctrine of the child’s best interest
The relevant code provision in Virginia is Virginia Code Section 20-124.3 which references a number of different factors that the Court must consider in determining a child’s best interests. Only one of those factors relates to the child’s preferences, if the child’s preferences are considered reasonable and if the court deems the child to be of reasonable intelligence, understanding, age, and experience to express such a preference.
Even then, however, the child’s preferences are but one of ten factors for the Court to consider.
How the child’s age matters
Generally speaking, the younger the child, the less weight the Court will place on a child’s preference. However, even though a child may be a teenager, that does not mean that a 14 year old’s preferences will be reasonable, particularly if the evidence shows that the parent the child wants to live with is more lenient, does not enforce curfews, bedtimes, or screen time, or the favored parent is more indulgent with that child.
Before involving a child in the custody dispute by asking your child about their preferences, speak with a lawyer to explore or a child specialist to determine if putting the child in that position is in their best interests and how doing so could affect the custody case.